John Updike

John Updike, 1932–2009, American author, one of the nation's most distinguished 20th-century men of letters, b. Shillington, Pa., grad. Harvard, 1954. In his many novels and stories, written in a well-modulated prose of extraordinary beauty, lyricism, and dazzling fluidity and with a sure eye for the details of ordinary domestic life, Updike usually treats the tensions and frustrations of the middle class, often mingling the joys and sorrows of suburban life with a current of existential dread. His "Rabbit quartet," perhaps his most famous novels, begins with Rabbit Run (1961), which, set in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, concerns the young Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a sort of surburban everyman who yearns for his days as a high school basketball star, hates his salesman's job, and, fleeing a loveless marriage, deserts his wife and child. The next books follow him through three decades of American life. In Rabbit Redux (1971), he confronts racial tension, job obsolescence, sexual freedom, drugs, violence, and the alienation of the young. The quartet continues with Rabbit Is Rich (1981; Pulitzer Prize) and ends with Rabbit at Rest (1990; Pulitzer Prize). The Rabbit characters are brought up to date in Rabbit Remembered, a novella-sequel included in the volume Licks of Love (2000).

Remarkably prolific, Updike produced about a book a year, publishing 60 volumes (including 26 novels) during his lifetime as well as reams of miscellaneous writings. His other novels include The Poorhouse Fair (1959); The Centaur (1962); the sensual Couples (1968); the exotic The Coup (1978); the wickedly comic The Witches of Eastwick (1984) and its sequel, The Widows of Eastwick (2008); the epic In the Beauty of the Lilies (1995); Seek My Face (2002); and The Terrorist (2006). Among his volumes of poetry, many consisting of light verse, are The Carpentered Hen (1958), Facing Nature (1985), Americana (2001), Endpoint and Other Poems (2009), and the posthumous Selected Poems (2015). His many superb short-story collections include Pigeon Feathers (1962), Museums and Women and Other Stories (1972), Problems (1979), The Afterlife and Other Stories (1994), My Father's Tears and Other Stories (2009), and the linked stories that feature Updike's Jewish, urban, unmarried, and writer's-blocked alter ego, Henry Bech: Bech: A Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1982), and Bech at Bay (1998). Updike also wrote the play Buchanan Dying (1974) and a variety of nonfiction: literary criticism, e.g., Hugging the Shore (1983), Odd Jobs (1991), More Matter (1999), and Due Considerations (2007); art criticism, e.g., Just Looking (1989), Still Looking (2005), and the posthumous Always Looking (2012); and essays on other subjects, e.g., Golf Dreams (1996) and Higher Gossip (2011).

See his memoirs (1989, repr. 2012); J. Plath, ed., Conversations with John Updike (1994); biography by A. Begley (2014); studies by D. Thorburn and H. Eiland, ed. (1979), W. R, Macnaughton, ed. (1982), J. Detweiler (rev. ed. 1984), J. H. Campbell (1987), J. Newman (1988), R. M. Luscher (1993), J. A. Schiff (1998), J. Yerkes, ed. (1999), W. H. Pritchard (2000), J. De Bellis, ed. (2005), and P. J. Bailey (2006); J. De Bellis, The John Updike Encyclopedia (2000).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

John Updike: Selected full-text books and articles

John Updike's Novels By Donald J. Greiner Ohio University Press, 1984
Librarian's tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Updike: America's Man of Letters By William H. Pritchard Steerforth Press, 2000
Rabbit (Un)Redeemed: The Drama of Belief in John Updike's Fiction By Peter J. Bailey Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006
The Other John Updike: Poems/Short Stories/Prose/Play By Donald J. Greiner Ohio University Press, 1981
Librarian's tip: This is a book of literary criticism
The John Updike Encyclopedia By Jack De Bellis Greenwood Press, 2000
John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy: Mastered Irony in Motion By Marshall Boswell University of Missouri Press, 2001
Updike and the Patriarchal Dilemma: Masculinity in the Rabbit Novels By Mary O'Connell Southern Illinois University Press, 1996
In Desire's Grip: Gender, Politics, and Intertextual Games in Updike's Gertrude and Claudius By Savu, Laura Elena Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 39, No. 1, Winter 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
John Updike as Theologian of Culture: Roger's Version and the Possibility of Embodied Redemption By Billings, J. Todd Christianity and Literature, Vol. 52, No. 2, Winter 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Art of John Updike's "A & P" By Saldivar, Toni Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 34, No. 2, Spring 1997
The Need of Some Imperishable Bliss: John Updike's toward the End of Time By Parks, John G Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Vol. 57, No. 2, Winter 2005
The Fiction of Philip Roth and John Updike By George J. Searles Southern Illinois University Press, 1985
Reconstructing the Family in Contemporary American Fiction By Desmond F. McCarthy Peter Lang Publishing, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Harry Angstrom's Flights from the Family"
John Updike and the Cold War: Drawing the Iron Curtain By D. Quentin Miller University of Missouri Press, 2001
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